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I expect a resurgence in clinically-focused cardiovascular research in Wales; THE HEART OF THE M ATTER Professor Julian Halcox.

Byline: Julian Halcox

IN JULY 2007 I was offered the chair in cardiology at Cardiff University - it was a time to think hard about my future career in academic cardiovascular medicine.

One of the major factors that influenced my decision to relocate from University College London to Cardiff was the Sir Geraint Evans Wales Heart Research Institute and the opportunity for me to work in it.

Today, we are celebrating the institute's 10th anniversary, which will provide an opportunity to look back on the great achievements of the last decade and to anticipate an exciting future for cardiovascular research in Wales.

The great strength of the WHRI is its true multidisciplinary scientific capacity. It brings together an incredibly diverse spectrum of researchers working on a range of problems.

Considerable expertise is concentrated in the area of vascular biology, which is increasing our understanding of how blood vessels function and develop disease, and also in the field of heart muscle cell physiology.

In particular teams at the institute are exploring the function of proteins involved in regulating the flow of electrical charge across membranes in heart muscle cells, which helps us to understand important mechanisms involved in the development of heart failure and heart rhythm problems.

Approximately two thirds of the research space in the institute is dedicated for these basic laboratory sciences, with the other third designed for clinical research activities, which predominantly focus on the study of arterial disease and heart muscle function.

By bringing together large numbers of individuals working in related areas, spanning fundamental sciences to clinical investigation, the WHRI provides the ideal environment for cross-fertilisation of ideas and collaborative working.

The effectiveness of this type of medical research environment has been recognised by the major funding bodies, including the British Heart Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, which have invested millions of pounds over the past few years.

From a personal perspective, the WHRI is also perfectly located next door to the country's largest teaching hospital, the University Hospital of Wales, where I also work as a consultant cardiologist.

To truly advance medical research, a close dialogue between the NHS staff charged with the care of cardiac patients and the scientists in the research laboratories is essential if we are to make the necessary advances in the battle against heart disease.

My expectation is that we will see a resurgence in clinically-focused cardiovascular research in Wales over the next few years.

We are working to develop a network of expert NHS clinicians and university researchers across the country with scientists from the WHRI and other Welsh research institutions at the heart of this process.

It is essential that we focus our efforts, in line with our groups' scientific expertise as well as national public health priorities, against the greatest problems of coronary artery disease and heart failure.

These diseases account for more deaths in Wales than any other condition and are responsible for much of the inequity in health across our society. NHS patients with and at risk of heart disease will of course also benefit from the increased quality of care this will ultimately bring.

These are exciting and interesting times to be a clinical scientist, with many large-scale initiatives, for example the human genome project, providing unprecedented advances in our understanding of fundamental biology.

The challenge for people like me and my clinical academic colleagues is to help translate these insights into new and innovative tests and treatments that can be used to improve care of our patients.

A research institute like the WHRI provides a fertile soil to produce these advances and long may it continue to flourish.

Julian Halcox is Professor of Cardiology at Cardiff University
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 18, 2009
Words:617
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